Opalescent Glass Patterns

Opalescent Glass

By Amy Babb

It’s easy to become lost in the beauty of Opalescent Glass. The same peace and meditation could only come from gazing at the stars or staring off into the sea. Truly, the beauty of this glass defies the definition. Yet, we still strive to understand more about this mysterious glass through the science in which it was made. By collecting its history and studying its artisans, we hope to capture a shard of its inner glow.

Opalescent Glass Classified into 3 Categories

In the antiques world, many historians like to classify opalescent glass into three basic categories. The first type is a translucent or semi-opaque glass of luminous quality where the opalescence emerges from inside the piece. Made by such masters as Lalique and Sabino, this first type of opalescent glass possesses unique qualities known only to the hierarchy of glassware.

The second type is a unique form glass, most commonly found in pressed glass. It has raised areas (such as rims, handles, and other surface decorations) that appear as an opaque opal white

blending into a colored or clear body. The final category is a mold-blown or hand-blown glass process with more than one layer of glass. Like the pressed opalescence along its outer edges.

Beautiful Photos of Opalescent Glass

First Type of Opalescent Glass Produces an Inner Glow

The first type is easy to recognize; it is a marvel to simply behold. Imagine, a glass statue in the form of an Art Deco woman. In the center of her graceful translucent form, where the glass is the thickest, the glass gradually becomes opaque. When lit from behind, the glass body glows in golden sun tones. From the front of the statue, a cool blue mist of light settles upon her features. This uncanny combination of science and art gives opalescent glass its name – like an opal.

The reason for the glowing lies in light refraction, mineral composition, and the varying wavelengths of different colors of the spectrum. But we often don’t think about science when it comes to antique glass. Simply put, the molten glass cools more slowly in the thicker parts of the glass item. This “suspended cooling” allows for crystals to form in the thick molten glass. This holds true for bowls and vases with raised decorations. The thicker the glass area, the more crystals that form. This is all due to the specialized chemical composition.

There are several artisans and glassmakers who excelled in this form of opalescent lass. One of the most famous artisans was Rene Lalique. He made opalescent tableware, vases, statues, figures, and even his very famous car mascots.

There were others who excelled namely, Marius E Sabino, Etling, and Pierrre D’Avenn. In fact, all of these designers became famous for their glass artwork.

Many of these companies are still around today, but few of them work with opalescent glass.  This glass was (and still is) somewhat difficult to produce.

Second Type of Opalescent Glass is Rimmed In Light

The second type of opalescent glass is formed in a different manner. In a way, the second type of opalescent glass is the opposite of the first type. Only the raised decorations, handles, rims, etc. are bathed in opalescence. In this process, after the first glass piece has started to cool off, it is re-heated again. This time, only the raised areas receive heat (think of it as you would a sunburn). The chemical composition of the glass makes these raised areas turn white.

Houston Glass Show
Houston Glass Show Opalescent Glass

Much of this type of opalescent glass was pressed glass, and there were many manufacturers. In America, these glass makers mastered the technique: Fenton, Northwood, Hobbs, American Glass and many others. In England, this art form was made quite popular early on by Davidson;s of England. Davidson’s named their creation “Pearline.”

Pearline appeared in 1889, and it was made in two colors – lemon yellow and a turquoise blue. Of course, it sported the opalescent white edge which made it one of Davidson’s most popular lines. Annually, Davidson introduced a new line of Pearline until 1903. Pearline production ceased in 1914 due to World War I. Almost invariably, Pearline featured a number mark with earlier pieces featuring the word “Patent.”

It is interesting to note that Lemon Yellow Pearline is also classified as Vaseline glass by some experts, and it does contain uranium.

It would be difficult to cover each of the manufacturers of pressed opalescent glass in one article. But another one of the shining stars is Anchor Hocking Glass Co. merged with Anchor Cap and Closure Corp. and became Anchor Hocking. But it was in 1941 that Anchor Hocking introduced Moonstone.

Moonstone is classified as a hobnail design with blue-tinted white opalescence. Sometimes it is confused with Fenton’s “French Opalescent Hobnail,” but when placed side by side the two are easily distinguished from one another. The next time you go to an antiques shop that features a good deal of glassware, just take note of the differences yourself. Sometimes the best way to learn is by experience.

Speaking of Fenton, this company excelled in the production of art glass, including opalescent glass. “French Opalescent” is just one of the many variations that Fenton produced. Examples can range from cranberry combined together with opalescent glass to “Canary” Vaseline glass combined with opalescent glass. By the way, the term, “French Opalescent” refers to Fenton’s color (white), and it was used on numerous Fenton patterns.

Fenton Art Glass Cranberry Ribbed Opalescent Optic Swirl Red White
Fenton Art Glass Cranberry Ribbed Opalescent Optic Swirl Red White

Third Type of Opalescent Glass Hand-Blown or Mold-Blown

The third type was often hand-blown or mold-blown, and it frequently had two layers of glass material – unlike the previous types of glass discussed. Typically, after the layered glass was removed from the mold. It was re-heated (to receive opalescence in the reactive layer) in the same manner as the more commonly pressed glass.

Technically complicated, antique mold-blown/hand-blown glass is more rare since a great deal of individual artistic skill was required to create the glorious glassware. Yet, it was not unknown in the major manufacturer’s world.

Max Miller sells hundreds of rare glassware pieces and various Epergne table centerpieces are among these pieces. Max is known by collectors around the country as a source for the best selection of rare glassware.

Max Miller Antiques specializes in American Glassware from 1850-1970 including Carnival, Fostoria, Cambridge, Pattern Glass, Imperial, Heisey, Tiffin, Fenton, Depression Glass, Vaseline Glass (Uranium Glass) and more. Check out The Houston Glass Show here 2023 Houston Glass Show & Sale

Houston Glass Show Victorian Cranberry Glass Epergne with clear trim ca. 1900
Victorian Cranberry Glass Epergne with clear trim ca. 1900

Researching Unmarked Opalescent Glassware Can Be Confusing

Let’s say you have an antique piece of unmarked opalescent glassware, but have no idea of where to begin researching its family tree. Luckily, there are vast resources both online and in the library showing photographs of exact patterns with corresponding makers. Also, as stated before, a collector can learn a great deal from simply shopping.

However, there are some cases where glass identification can be somewhat frustrating. At times, researching unmarked glassware (in general) is confusing at best. Sometimes an original glass mold was discontinued by one company and then picked up by another. To add to the confusion, sometimes only slight differences appeared from company to company. Experts can evaluate glassware by such slight variations as and color choices (including timelines) made by each company, yet it is no easy task.

But don’t be overwhelmed, we now live in a day and age when persistence equals knowledge. It is literally mind-boggling just to see the depth of detailed research and history presented online – just on the subject of opalescent glass alone! This vast depository of knowledge clearly speaks to the enthusiasm that opalescent glass generates.

There are a few confusing definitions in the glass world. For example, Opaline glass “sounds like” opalescent glass, but it is most often placed in a different category. This style of decorative glass was made primarily in France from 1800 to around 1890. Opaline glass was an opaque (often colored) type of glass very popular during the reign of Napoleon III.

It should also be noted that iridescent glass is also sometimes confused opalescent glass by those who are new to the antique collecting world. In time, these new collectors will easily see the difference between the two. Like the name implies, iridescent glass is produced with an iridescent metallic rainbow like finish. The most common types have just an outer layer of this “opal-like” luster on its surface only. Yet there are, as always, exceptions to the rule (like Tiffany’s Favrile).

Also, it should be noted that several reference sources do not divide opalescent glass into three different methods of production. Clearly, there are no hard-set rules when it comes to distinguishing between opalescent glass forms. Simply put, it is an art form. Like all art forms, opalescent glass cannot always be classified or labeled according to present rules.

Who knows, maybe we all get too wrapped up in definitions anyway. After all, this glass was made to be admired for its beauty. Enjoy it.

One final note: Opalescent glass is addictive. Once you purchase your first piece, you will want another and another. Whether displayed against a dark background to show off the gradual color shift or displayed in the sunlight to show off a spectrum of colors – it is very beautiful. Consider yourself warned!





Scroll to Top